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General Election party manifesto cheat sheet - Education

Monday 27-04-2015 - 13:25

Want to keep on track of what’s been said by the political parties about education and what it means for students? 

We've analysed the political parties' General Election manifestos to you don't have to. This handy cheat sheet focuses on the policies relating to education, looking at some of the main promises made so far…


Information, Advice and Guidance

The Conservatives have recently created, through a  £20m investment, an employer-led and independent new careers and enterprise company for schools which will ‘provide inspiration and education to pupils’. Part of the new company’s role will be to broker relationships between employers and schools and colleges and will give employers a much more central role in providing careers support for young people.

The Green Party currently don’t have any policy on IAG, however a spokesperson for them said careers teachers should be properly qualified. Given that the Greens have also promised a ‘comprehensive and inclusive’ youth services and compulsory Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) in schools, it’s possible that careers IAG can be part delivered through these two policies.

The Liberal Democrats' manifesto made a commitment to ‘improve careers advice in schools and colleges’, but no detail has been provided as to how they will do this. However, like the Greens, they want to bring in PSHE and ‘raise the status of youth workers’. They would also like to see a cross party commission on reskilling and lifelong learning, which in all likelihood will need to discuss the current state of IAG.

Labour have committed spending £50m to introduce a face to face careers service for those in school, college and university which would offer advice about both career and educational options. The provision would be delivered by trained careers advisors and the money would come from a proportion of universities existing access and outreach spending. They also plan to introduce a new, independent careers advice service with a focus on vocational routes.


Funding

The Conservatives and Lib Dems offer the least in the way of changes to HE funding policy, which represents the fact that they stand by the reforms they made whilst in government. Both praise the reforms to fees and loans in their manifestos, claiming that it has been a driving force behind increased participation in higher education. The Conservatives remain committed to lifting the cap on university places and to implementing a ‘national postgraduate loan system for taught masters and PhD courses’ and to review research council funding. The Lib Dems also say they aim to ‘protect and seek to extend’ the proposed postgraduate loan system, but do not say what the extension will include.  Whilst offering no reform to undergraduate funding, the Lib Dems say that they will review HE finance in the next Parliament with an emphasis on ensuring fair support for living costs for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Labour plan to cut undergraduate tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 and increase the teaching grant to universities to compensate. This will be paid for by ‘restricting tax relief on pension contributions’ and by ‘clamping down on tax avoidance’. Students will effectively pay back less as graduates as a result, but only if they earn enough over the 30 year repayment period to repay the loans in full. Elsewhere, Labour have suggested other details to their funding policy, particularly around maintenance grants, but this is not detailed in their official election manifesto.

The Greens offer to scrap tuition fees altogether, and replace maintenance loans with universal student grants. University funding will be reintroduced through the block grant to compensate the loss of fee income. The effect of this is both free education and maintenance for all students, and the return to the universal grants model of funding for higher education. The Greens additionally aim to cancel all existing student loans, which will effectively write off the student debt of any graduate yet to repay their loan in full. They estimate that this will cost government a total of £30bn in lost revenue over 25 years. In the long-term, they aim to also scrap fees on ‘academic postgraduate courses’, but there is no clarification on what counts as ‘academic’. There is a commitment to support mature students, but no details on what this will entail.

The Lib Dems have committed to a review of VAT on FE and sixth-form colleges would potentially address a long-held grievance in the FE sector and the Greens go further promising to abolish it outright.


Access

Labour’s manifesto prioritises a commitment to the 50 per cent of young people not currently following academic routes into education, with investment in vocational routes of education, links to industry and a promise of a place in work or education for all young people. This indicates a significant shift in the current access agenda which focuses on moving young people into university education. Labour’s pledge of £6k fees also leaves a huge number of questions around the current access agenda and the future of the Office for Fair Access. How this would be managed and regulated under a £6k fee system remains to be seen.

The Greens are pledging at pre-university level to restore the Education Maintenance Allowance for 16 and 17 year olds, and connect universities with local schools and colleges through nationwide widening participation programmes, although there’s very little context to what this would entail, and much of this work is happening already with HEFCE’s extensive outreach networks. There is some mention of lifelong learning, and a commitment to support for mature students and their families, but again this is principled rather than policy focussed.

The Conservatives have little direct policy addressing access to education. They pledge that “if you want to go to university, you can” and cite the success of the current fee regime and the removal of student number controls as the ways in which they will achieve this. With nothing addressing the significant drop in mature and part time student numbers, except perhaps the pledge to encourage universities to offer more two year courses and create a tiered degree system, there is very little that could be considered aimed at a widening access agenda.

The Lib Dems promise to focus widening participation on early intervention in schools and colleges is in line with the available evidence of what works, and would probably involve some reform of the Office for Fair Access..


Expectations for providers

For the Conservatives, supporting students to make choices and achieving value for money for student fees are the driving forces in proposed regulatory changes. In both FE and HE more information about student employment destinations is promised, and the planned removal of the HE student number cap is reiterated. Most eye-catching for the HE sector is the promise to create a framework for recognising teaching excellence: this would almost certainly be delegated to HEFCE to deliver and would likely be focused on fostering further competition between providers under a Conservative-led government. The sector is already looking closely at metrics to measure learning outcomes and these would likely be part of any new Teaching Excellence Framework.

Labour would encourage more part-time education as a priority for expansion, implicitly suggesting that under a reduced fee environment the student number cap might have to be replaced to control the costs of replacing direct public funding to higher education providers.

The Lib Dems offer the most developed set of proposals relating to expectations of education providers. The promise to focus widening participation on early intervention in schools and colleges is in line with the available evidence of what works, and would probably involve some reform of the Office for Fair Access. Promises to improve student protection, reform the Key Information Set, make university selection criteria transparent and consider standardising student contracts would strengthen students’ individual consumer rights. However, the latter two would likely meet resistance from the higher education sector as they have in past iterations of similar policies.

The Greens promise to return control of FE colleges to democratic local government. The impact of this would of course depend on the quality of governance across different local authority areas but could potentially refocus FE on areas of local need. FE colleges would be encouraged (but not required) to reinstate community adult education programmes. The Greens offer a national widening participation programme connecting colleges, schools and universities which would be a valuable infrastructure support for access activity but would need a significant investment to sustain and make effective.


Apprentices

Apprenticeships dominate the party manifestos with regards to vocational education. The Conservatives pledge to create many more degree level apprenticeships, focusing on higher level qualifications whilst reducing the number of ‘lower-level’ vocational courses taught in further education colleges. They promise more employer involvement in the design of apprenticeships as well as a commitment to deliver three million more over the next five years. The Lib Dems’ manifesto also focuses on degree equivalent apprenticeships. They plan to double the number of businesses who hire apprentices and also increase the number of apprentices from BAME backgrounds as well as the numbers of women taking part in this type of study.

Labour has gone one step further and are promising an apprenticeship for every school leaver who attains the grades. They also focus is on improving technical and professional education through the creation of new technical degrees that would offer new routes into higher education from apprenticeships. There is a lack of formal route from apprenticeships into HE qualifications, but the power to create new degree routes is probably rather dependent on universities agreeing to play, as they generally hold the power to create and award degrees. 

The Green’s plans for apprenticeships mirror those of Labour in that they too are promising to provide an apprenticeship to all young qualified people who do not have one and want one. They have extended this to young people up to the age of 25, rather than just school leavers. They also plan to increase apprenticeship funding by 30 per cent. 


Want to learn more about how the main manifesto promises relating to work, community and liberation? Download our bumper General Election party manifesto cheat sheet now! 

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